Munster reeling as Rassie Erasmus gets ready to pack bags
Fears are continuing to grow that Rassie Erasmus will not see out the remaining two years of his Munster contract, with the Springboks increasingly confident that they can lure him back into their system.
The Irish Independent understands that Erasmus has triggered the six-months' notice clause in his contract that will allow him return to South Africa to become their director of rugby.
Pat Lam used a similar clause to leave Connacht for Bristol and recently warned against the risk of it happening to other coaches of Irish provinces.
Erasmus has made no secret of his desire to one day lead the Springboks, but following Munster's Champions Cup exit, he assured supporters that he was fully committed to the province.
The 44-year-old's impending shock departure will come as a major blow and it will be made even worse by the news that his right-hand man Jacques Nienaber will follow Erasmus back to South Africa.
It is believed that Nienaber, the Reds' defence coach, was offered the head coach role at the province, but he is also keen to return to the Boks.
Erasmus will remain for the start of the next campaign, potentially even until the end of the season, and will oversee pre-season as planned, but Munster have been left scrambling to find a suitable replacement.
Munster have made great strides since the impressive duo arrived last summer, as they reached the Champions Cup semi-final as well as the Guinness PRO12 final.
Hooker Niall Scannell revealed in April that Erasmus had "clarified to us (the squad) a few weeks ago" that he was committed to his three-year deal, but the Springboks have never given up hope of landing their man.
The South African Rugby Union (SARU) have always regretted allowing one of the country's finest coaches leave and behind the scenes they, along with the government, have been working tirelessly to turn his head.
Erasmus and his young family have settled well in Limerick, but the offer to take up what is his dream job is likely to be too good to turn down.
Erasmus, a former Springbok captain, was previously the general manager of the team, but their complicated political system saw him walk away in favour of Munster.
The SARU have tabled a lucrative offer that will see Erasmus assume complete control of the Springboks without any restrictions on selections.
Erasmus was grilled about his future last season and in March said: "I have been talking to (the SARU) since I have been here. I have been living and coaching there the last 16 years. I know them really well. There have been formal and informal chats."
While Munster knew that their director of rugby would eventually return home, they are very disappointed with how the scenario has played out.
In terms of finding a replacement the timing couldn't be worse, particularly ahead of a crucial summer of recruitment, but Erasmus staying on for at least a part of next season will buy them some time.
The untimely death of Anthony Foley last year rocked the province and should Erasmus and Nienaber depart as expected, it would leave them without three key voices in their set-up.
Jerry Flannery (forwards coach) and Felix Jones (backs coach) have extended their deals, but Munster will look outside the club for Erasmus' successor.